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Government performs U-turn on smaller nuclear reactors

modular nuclear reactor

The government looks set to perform a U-turn on its approach to smaller nuclear reactors, after previously being accused of “crushing” their development. 

The government has been reluctant to invest in the emerging technology but a new government-funded report has backed the creation of hundreds of micro nuclear reactors (MNRs) in the UK. 

The study produced by Nuvia, WSP and Atomic Acquisitions concludes that there is great potential for development of MNRs between 2030 and 2035. 

The study, Market and Technical Assessment of Micro Nuclear Reactors, comes after a nuclear engineer’s report released last year criticised the government for ending the development of small modular reactors in the UK.

In October last year, documents obtained by the Guardian also revealed that energy firms’ requests for billions of pounds of government funding to construct small modular reactors for nuclear power stations had been rejected.

The latest study says wider use of the reactors will benefit the UK economy. The largest market for the reactors would likely be as backup generators to regular nuclear plants, it concludes.

“Due to their size and unique characteristics, there are several potential market opportunities for MNRs. A potential global accessible market of up to 2850 megawatts has been estimated by around 2030,” the report states.

“The largest immediate market is likely to be nuclear power plant standby, with other markets starting on a much smaller scale, with the potential for longer term growth.”

It adds: “The UK may be able to utilise and grow its existing nuclear knowledge and supply chain into a new product line.

“A potential MNR industry could enable the UK to grow indigenous civil nuclear reactor manufacturers gaining intellectual capital at low entry cost. At present this core part of the civil nuclear supply chain is not provided in the UK.”

The report also highlights risk factors that will negatively impact the attractiveness of funding small nuclear reactors. These include the “prohibitive” cost of regulation and the small chance of the public accepting the location of small nuclear reactors closer to population centres.

“The political environment and level of commitment in relation to MNRs is uncertain. There is a high risk that commitment may change before industry has the chance to develop competitive products in the long term,” it adds.

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